Designing Points of Automotive Amazement

Lincoln Design Director David Woodhouse on how luxury products—and experiences—are created.

David Woodhouse, Lincoln Design Director, before coming to the U.S., worked at a studio in London.  In Soho.  It was right around the corner, Woodhouse recalls, from the Louis Vuitton store on Bond Street, a street in the West End that also boasts Asprey, Bulgari, Burberry, Chanel, Cartier, Dolce Gabbana, Hermès, Jimmy Choo, Ralph Lauren, and Tiffany.  The word “posh” comes to mind, and not in the context of the previous nickname of Victoria Beckham, who now has a shop on nearby Dover Street where her high-end fashion is on display.  It is an area that aches with haute couture.  At the time, Woodhouse was working on strategy for Lincoln.

Woodhouse doesn’t bring up the Louis Vuitton store because of his interest in fashion and accessories, but because of what happened at the flagship store.

It was closed for some 18 months.  (“Consider the cost,” Woodhouse remarks.)

Then the 17,000-ft2 store reopened. “The luxury experience,” Woodhouse says, is the one you never expect is possible.  When you find true luxury, it provokes a sense of surprise, of something that you never thought was achievable.”

Louis Vuitton is best known for its handbags, often adorned with the repeated “LV” font. The brand is over 160 years old. Yet Woodhouse says that even though they offer “one of the oldest, most traditional bags,” when he went into the store in London, he found it to be a surprise.  “The store is like a discovery,” he says.  There is all manner of unexpected things, from classic luxury to avant-garde.

And this is the sense that Woodhouse says that he and his team are working to bring to Lincoln, which has roots going back to 1917.

While Woodhouse acknowledges that while there have been several Lincolns in days gone by with gobs of character, without abandoning the past it is necessary to provide designs and approaches that fit within a more contemporary context, to create products combining that character with what he calls “industrial success.”

What they are striving to create in the cars and trucks they are putting on offer is what he calls “points of amazement.”

“We’ve got to build more and more character as we go forward,” he says.  The company is on its second generation of products since it has had the corporate defibrillator paddles applied and an investment infusion, as well, with the most recent introduction being the MKX crossover, which will go on the market (with the market including not only North America, but China and the Middle East, as well, places where the LV logo is well recognized).

Lincoln, of course, is pursuing advanced infotainment technology for deployment in its vehicles, but Woodhouse notes that they’re “figuring out what’s possible—and what’s of the most benefit to the customer.”

“People want a simpler, edited approach,” he says.  This is manifest in at least two ways.  For one, Lincoln has announced integration with Google Now, and if there is any tech company on the planet that has a superbly simple approach (think only of its homepage), it is Google.  Second, Lincoln control consoles include knobs for the audio system and buttons for the HVAC, again a simpler approach than a menu-ladened approach to selecting a new station (although Lincolns have an 8-in. touchscreen for the aforementioned functions, as well as for a variety of others, for those who are more digital in their inclinations).

Woodhouse, talking in early January, says, “I took delivery of a Mustang last week.  I’d never had any interest in one before.  But it has character in spades—the power, the appearance, the interior.”

While Woodhouse isn’t going to be designing any Mustangs, clearly he recognizes that the overall distinctiveness of that car is the sort of thing that they need to capture as they develop new Lincolns.